One of the most inspiring examples I know of is Danny Thomas and his legacy with the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The story has been oft-told. Early in his career when Thomas was a nightclub comic with a family to support and only a few bucks in his pocket, he found himself standing outside of a Detroit church looking up at a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. In his despair, Thomas prayed to the statue to show him the way in life. Days later, he got a job offer that led to some steady coin, which was a welcome relief for the Thomas clan. Thomas vowed he would one day build a monument to St. Jude.
By 1953 his career was on fire with the success of laffer "The Danny Thomas Show" on ABC, which in turn allowed him to form a really, really successful production partnership with actor-turned-producer Sheldon Leonard (think "Andy Griffith Show," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "I Spy," etc. And he's the reason why the lead characters on CBS' new sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" are named Sheldon and Leonard.)
By the mid-1950s, Thomas began to make good on his promise to St. Jude. He took a whole bunch of his profits from the TV shows, raised money from other sources and through innumerable fundraisers that he and his pals hosted, and founded a children's research hospital, not in Hollywood or Gotham but in a part of the country where infant mortality at the time was still tragically high.
St. Jude opened its doors in 1962. It's one of those merciful medical institutions that by its charter treats whoever comes in the door -- regardless of their ability to pay. It's also funded a ton of ground-breaking, life-saving research into a host of diseases and medical issues involving children.
Thomas' lifelong commitment to St. Jude is evidenced by the fact that he is buried on the hospital grounds. Perhaps most impressive is the level of dedication that Thomas' three children -- Marlo, Terre and Tony -- have demonstrated to the hospital -- and not just for photo ops. (I rang up Tony Thomas not too long ago for an interview about something or other, and we spoke on a crackly cell connection as he was driving to an airport outside Memphis. He'd just finished attending a St. Jude board meeting.)
The whole heart-warming story is here in greater detail on the St. Jude website. Let it stand as a lesson, a guide and a challenge to all of us who make good livings in this town.
(Pictured right: Marlo Thomas and pal at a St. Jude fundraiser held Thursday at Brooks Brothers in New York. Spotting this pic on WireImage.com inspired this post.)